How to Help Stray Cats in the Cold Weather

As the weather gets colder, you may be worried about the cats you see around your neighborhood.

They may be pets whose owners keep them outside, or they could be community cats, a group that includes ferals (are afraid of people) and strays (who’ve been lost or abandoned). No matter how resourceful these outdoor cats may be, they need help surviving winter.

If you’ve got some time to help, the kitties will thank you! Follow these easy tips to help your local outdoor cats during the cold months.


  • Keep outdoor cats sheltered from the cold

Yes, their thickened winter coats help feral and stray cats weather winter’s chill, but they still need appropriate-sized shelters which are warm, dry, well-insulated.

It’s cheapest to build these on your own, and there are many plans and instructions that can help you get started.

  • How to get some help building your outdoor-cat shelter

A shelter-building party can be great fun as a weekend project! Ask your friends, neighbors and coworkers to join in. Try contacting local youth groups and find out if they will help build shelters as a service project.

  • Where to find the materials you need.

You may find some inexpensive or free materials by asking building-supply stores or contractors if they have scrap lumber. Ask your friends, neighbors and coworkers for used dog houses, which can be modified to make good shelters. You can even use if need be, a storage bin from the local hardware store.

  • What to put inside your outdoor cat shelter

Straw insulation allows cats to burrow. Pillowcases loosely stuffed with packing peanuts and shredded newspaper also work just fine.

Keep things clean: Replace straw and newspaper if moist or dirty, and wash and re-stuff pillowcases and other materials as needed.

However, if it’s really cold where you live and you can’t check on the shelters on a regular basis, don’t use the above insulation. Instead, “wallpaper” the shelter’s inner walls and floor with some Mylar. It will reflect back body heat, and it’s okay for cats to lie on it.

  • What NOT to put inside your outdoor-cat shelter

Do not use blankets, towels or folded newspaper; they absorb body heat and chill cats who are lying on them. Forget hay, too, which may irritate noses and cause allergic reactions.

Give your outdoor cats food and water

One way to protect food and water is to place two shelters—doorways facing each other about two feet apart. Then you create a canopy between them by securing a wide board from one roof to the other. Then finally, put the food and water under the canopy.

  • How to keep outdoor cats’ food and water from freezing up

What you put food and water in can make a huge difference. A thick plastic water container that’s deep and wide is much better-insulated than a thin plastic or ceramic container. A solar-heated water bowl will prevent or delay water and canned food from freezing.

If shelters are indeed well-insulated, you can put bowls of dry or moist food inside them, far from the doorway. Even if the moist food freezes up, the cats’ body heat will defrost it when they hunker down inside their shelter.

Don’t put water bowls inside the shelters themselves. Water easily gets spilled, and a wet shelter will feel more like a refrigerator than a warm sanctuary.